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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    6 September  2012

Philippines praises Clinton's remarks on south china sea dispute


Philippine officials yesterday praised US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call for a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), saying she had bolstered Manila’s stance.

Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Clinton’s backing for a peaceful resolution of the disputes and the passage of a “code of conduct” in the disputed sea were objectives the Philippines had also been seeking.

“We have long been trying to finalise (the code). This code of conduct will minimise any confrontation in the area,” Gazmin told reporters yesterday.

“That is what we have been seeking. We need to speak in one voice. If we are united we can deal with a major country and we can pursue a united solution within Asean and third-party countries,” he added.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who pushed for a united stand during the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) in Cambodia in July, said Clinton’s call reflected Manila’s position.

“Asean was organised to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the region. If there is a threat to freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce in the South China Sea, there should be a collective response not only from Asean but from other nations who may be consequenced,” Del Rosario said.

“Prevailing disputes must as well be discussed not bilaterally but multilaterally as there are several nations involved. We must pursue a peaceful resolution in accord with international law including Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Del Rosario said in a text message while on a visit to Syria.

“There should be no use of or threat of force,” he stressed.

Two Asean members—the Philippines and Vietnam, which also lay claim to the disputed areas—have both accused China of pressing its territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea more aggressively. Fellow Asean members Malaysia and Brunei, along with Taiwan, also claim parts of the sea.

In April, Chinese and Philippine ships had a face-off in Panatag Shoal (Scarbourough Shoal), an outcropping of rocks in the West Philippine Sea off the western coast of the Philippines.

While the Philippines has withdrawn its vessels in a gesture to China, officials say Chinese ships are still at the shoal.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the sea, which is believed to hold vast amounts of oil and gas, is one of the region’s most important fishing grounds and has shipping lanes that are vital to global trade.

Assistant Foreign Secretary Raul Hernandez, spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs, stressed  that the Philippines was seeking a “peaceful, rules-based and also multilateral approach” to settling the disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

Hernandez also called for the speedy approval of the code of conduct among rival claimants to minimise tensions in the sea.

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It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

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